During the past two weeks, I have re-entered the world of being labeled with a Greek letter and become a Beta. No, I have not rediscovered my inner sorority girl (though I can still proudly sing the Greek alphabet). I have become a Beta reader. This is the official name of someone who has the honor of reading an unpublished novel and providing feedback for the author.
In my day job as a high school English teacher, I spend countless hours reading students’ rough drafts, essays, paragraphs, stories, and personal narratives. It can get grueling. In fact, the one part of my job that I struggle through (well, I actually hate) is all the grading. I love the kids, enjoy the curriculum, like the lesson planning and teaching, but the grading? It sucks.
With that said, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to respond to an entire novel. Would it be like reading 150 pages of student work? If so, I feared my new venture as a Beta reader would send me down a path I’d rather avoid: annoyed that I’d agreed to the job and downing far too much wine to get through it.
Happily, I discovered I like being a Beta. I tried to read and respond to each chapter at a time, to record questions that I had about plot or characters, impressions that I got, directions I thought the story was heading at that point. Since there was a bit of a mystery involved in the story, when I finished it, it was also interesting to go back and see what I thought would happen. I was wrong and didn’t figure out the culprit until it was revealed at the end, just like I was supposed to.
While there were elements of the story that were fabulous, I also had questions about some of the characters, their relationships, and even some plot elements. I had read a draft, not a completed work, and while it’s a solid draft with tons of potential, it was just that, a draft.
I’ve been somewhat stuck in my own novel project over the last two months, and participating in the Beta process took a bit of the pressure off that I’ve been putting on myself to make the first draft reach a standard that it won’t ever meet. The lesson? Just finish. Get the first draft done. I can revise to my heart’s content . . . later. I needed that reminder. Writing is a process.
I’d like to congratulate my writing friend, Susan, for her amazing first draft, and thank her for sharing her work with me and encouraging me to get my project own project done so she can read it.